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Vol. 9. Issue 1.
Pages 935-947 (January - February 2020)
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Vol. 9. Issue 1.
Pages 935-947 (January - February 2020)
Original Article
DOI: 10.1016/j.jmrt.2019.11.033
Open Access
Microstructure and wear characteristics of novel Fe-Ni matrix wear-resistant composites on the middle chute of the scraper conveyor
Jianfeng Lia,b, Zhencai Zhua,b,
Corresponding author

Corresponding author.
, Yuxing Penga,b, Gang Shena,b
a School of Mechanical and Electrical Engineering, China University of Mining and Technology, University Road, Quanshan District, Xuzhou 221116, China
b Jiangsu Key Laboratory of Mine Mechanical and Electrical Equipment, China University of Mining & Technology, Xuzhou, China
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Figures (13)
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Tables (3)
Table 1. The content of each element in Ni-based alloyed powder (mass ratio (wt.%)).
Table 2. The composition of Fe-Ni matrix self-lubricating composites.
Table 3. Compositional analysis of different regions in the Fe-Ni matrix composites.
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Fe-Ni matrix composites with varied amounts of graphite (Gr) were fabricated by spark plasma sintering system (SPS), and the microstructure and properties of composites were investigated in details. The results implied that Fe-Ni matrix composites were mainly composed of Fe, NiWCr, FeNi, FeCr, Fe3C, Fe3W3C, (Cr, Fe)7C3, cored-eutectic structure (pearlite/Fe3C) and Gr. The variation of the average microhardness of Fe-Ni matrix composites depended on the content of Gr. It initially increased, followed by a decreasing trend with the increasing Gr content. When the Gr addition was 3 wt.%, the average microhardness reached a maximum value of about 355.3HV0.5, which was about twice higher than that of 16Mn steel. Besides, the lowest wear rate of Fe-Ni matrix composites was also achieved with increasing Gr content to 3 wt.% under identical conditions due to the high hardness and the formation of a continuously low shear strength composite layer for the worn surface.

The middle chute
The scraper conveyor
Fe-Ni matrix composites
Full Text

Friction and wear problems are very common in the field of coal mining machinery, which can decrease the coal mining efficiency and even bring about a series of major accidents. The scraper conveyor is the most important equipment for coal transportation, whose parts has to subject to severe friction and wear in the process of coal mining, especially for the middle chute, as indicated in Fig. 1[1–5]. Moreover, the failure of partial regions of the middle chute will not trigger the breakdown of the entire scraper conveyor, but threaten the safety of coal miners. This is, the durability of the middle chute is the decisive factor for the service life of the scraper conveyor. Thus, in order to prolong the middle chute endurance life, improve the coal mining efficiency and save excessive consumption in materials, the restoration for the middle chute presents a significant challenge to many research communities.

Fig. 1.

Wear appearance photographs of the middle chutes of the scraper conveyor.


Laser cladding has recently been developed for producing specific wear-resistant coatings for mechanical parts, which has been extensively employed in a large number of industrial applications at home and abroad [6–15]. Although laser cladding technique can fabricate wear-resistant coatings with some distinct strengths such as fully dense structure, lower porosity and minimal damage to the underlying substrate, laser cladding belongs to a process that contains the rapid heating as well as non-equilibrium solidification, which easily brings about the formation of high residual stress and cracks in the as-prepared coating so that incur the dramatic degradation of mechanical and anti-wear abilities [16–18]. Hence, the exploration of a more effective and economical approach is considered to be one of important issues in our current research.

Metal-lubricant composites provide the desired properties such as the excellent friction-reduction and wear resistance, deriving from a combination of exceptional wear resistance/toughness of metal matrix, as well as good lubricating properties of lubricants, which are widely used in many industrial applications, especially, under dry-sliding and free-lubricant conditions [19–21]. However, metal-lubricant composites can be welded in those surface worn defects by machining into various specific shapes for the restoration of metal parts, which is characterized by environmental friendly, high efficiency, energy and resource-saving, easy operation, etc. The schematic diagram of the restoration of the middle chute by metal-lubricant composites was indicated in Fig. 2. Nevertheless, it is worthwhile to point out that the application of metal-lubricant composites in the middle chute of the scraper convey is absent, filling with certain novelty and practicality.

Fig. 2.

The schematic diagram of the restoration of the middle chute by metal-lubricant composites: simulation diagram (a) and actual engineering diagram (b).


Based on the low cost, abundance, high hardness, resistance to adequate corrosion, oxidation and wear, Fe-based wear-resistant composites are paying increased attention [22,23]. Zhang et al. [24] have investigated the influence of TiC on the wear behavior of Fe3Al alloy. They found that the addition of TiC greatly facilitates the enhancement in the wear resistance of Fe3Al alloy. Prabhu et al. [25] have reported the tribological properties of Fe/SiC/Gr composites are conducted on a sub-scale dynamometer disk brake testing system. They concluded that the resistance to abrasive wear of Fe/Gr/SiC composites is significantly enhanced with the addition of SiC. Song et al. [26] have investigated the tribological behavior of Fe-based composites reinforced by WCP, and found the anti-wear property of Fe-based composites is 1.93 times as high as high-speed steel. Hence, developing Fe-based wear-resistant composites as the substitute for laser cladding coatings is quite necessary for society. Additionally, Fe-Ni matrix wear-resistant composites with lubricants are rarely reported and urgently needed to be studied.

Therefore, in the present study, Fe-Ni matrix composites with the addition of Gr were designed and fabricated via spark plasma sintering method [27,28]. And the microstructure, hardness, wear properties were investigated in-depth and the wear mechanism was discussed. The main objective is to develop novel Fe-based wear-resistant composites, promoting their inclusive application in the manufacturing and repairing of mining machinery parts.

2Experimental procedures2.1Sample preparation

Self-developed Ni-based alloy powders were successfully fabricated by the means of water atomization technique in our laboratory. And Table 1 lists the chemical composition of Ni-based alloy powders. The morphology of Ni-based alloy powders was examined by SEM, as shown in Fig. 3.

Table 1.

The content of each element in Ni-based alloyed powder (mass ratio (wt.%)).

Fe  Ni  Cr  Mn 
Bal.  40.97  15.44  16.01  1.14  3.21  2.84 
Fig. 3.

The SEM image of Ni-based alloy powders.


Ni-based alloy powders exhibited irregularly spherical shapes, and the particle sizes were the range of 10 μm–50 μm. Fe powders (average size: 76 μm, purity: 99.9 %), Ni-based alloy powders, copper powder (average size: 1 μm, purity: 99.9 %) and Gr (average size: ≤30 μm, purity: ≥99.85 %) were mixed well by a planetary high-energy mill machine in argon gas atmosphere protection for more than 10 h at a rotational speed of 200 rpm. The composition of five kinds of mixed powders is presented in Table 2. Finally, above mixed powders were sintered in a spark plasma sintering furnace (SPS-211Lx) protected by high-purity argon atmosphere at 1000 ℃ under a pressure of 20 MPa for 5 min. After the bodies were cooled down to RT, Fe-Ni matrix composites with various contents of Gr were obtained, respectively. The samples were machined and polished for the following properties testing.

Table 2.

The composition of Fe-Ni matrix self-lubricating composites.

Specimens  Compositions (wt.%) 
FG1  Fe-30Ni-W-Cr alloyed powder-10Cu-0Gr 
FG2  Fe-30Ni-W-Cr alloyed powder-10Cu-1Gr 
FG3  Fe-30Ni-W-Cr alloyed powder-10Cu-3Gr 
FG4  Fe-30Ni-W-Cr alloyed powder-10Cu-5Gr 
FG5  Fe-30Ni-W-Cr alloyed powder-10Cu-7Gr 

Phase constituents of samples were evaluated via X-ray diffractometer (XRD, D8 Advance). To measure the microhardness of samples, a Vickers hardness device (THV-5MD) was adopted with 5 N test load and 10 s holding time, and the average value of ten times measurement of each sample was taken. Metallographic samples were polished and etched with etchant solution (with volume ration of HNO3: absolute ethyl alcohol = 4: 96). The microstructure and worn surface morphologies of samples were characterized with field emission scanning electron microscope (ZEISS Merlin Compact) equipped with EDS.

The wear properties were evaluated on a UMT-2 “ball-on-disk” wear tester (CETR, USA) [29–32]. A disc was as-prepared samples, and the counter-body was a 440C steel ball which was 10 mm in diameter and HRC62 in hardness. Prior to wear tests, the surfaces of samples were polished and cleaned. Four loads were applied, ranging from 10N∼25 N, the linear velocity and the testing time were fixed at 10 mm/s and 1200 s, respectively. After wear tests, the wear volume was obtained by a surface profilometer. Then the wear rate equaled the value that the wear volume divided by sliding distance (m) and applied load (N) [33,34].

3Results and discussion3.1Microstructure

The component phases of composites identified by XRD analysis are presented in Fig. 4. Some diffraction peaks overlapped, deviating from the equilibrium position, which indicated that multi-phases coexisted. It could be clearly found that the main phases of FG1 and FG2 were Fe, NiWCr, FeCr, FeNi, Fe3C, Fe3W3C, (Cr, Fe)7C3. No diffraction peaks of oxides were found, because the chemical reaction between Gr and oxygen during the sintering process eliminated oxygen so that the formation of oxides was effectively suppressed. With the content of Gr initially increasing, the intensities of Fe3C, Fe3W3C, (Cr, Fe)7C3 peaks were strengthened. This was because Fe, W, Cr carbide-elements reacted with Gr during the fabricating process, leading to the formation of more carbides [35]. However, the intensities of Fe3C and free Gr peaks obviously increased with the content of Gr increasing to 3 wt.%, suggesting that the formation of more Fe3C and the existence of more Gr in free state. Large amount of Gr would reunite into larger Gr sheets due to its high surface energy. In sequence, the chemical reaction between the edge of agglomerated Gr and Fe led to the existence of most of free Gr in the matrix. Furthermore, the reaction between Fe and the edge of agglomerated Gr also could improve the interfacial adhesion between Gr and Fe matrix, reduce the detachment of Gr from the matrix and prevent the removal of material during the sliding process. With the content of Gr further increasing, the intensities of Gr sharply increases, indicating that large amount of Gr was retained. Gr could act as a solid lubricant which contributed to the friction-reducing property of composites during the sliding process. NiWCr, FeNi and FeCr solid solutions formed could greatly facilitate an increase in the strength of composites due to the solid solution strengthening effect [36,37]. Additionally, intermetallic compounds including Fe3C, Fe3W3C, (Cr, Fe)7C3 which functioned as hardeners were favorable for the enhancement in hardness and wear resistance of composites [37–40].

Fig. 4.

XRD analysis results of Fe-Ni matrix composites.


Fig. 5 illustrates optical micrographs of Fe-Ni matrix composites, which were free from porosity-free and cracks, indicating that the sound quality metallurgical bonding between various phases and matrix was obtained. Five distinct feature phases could be seen in the Fe-Ni matrix composites, which were marked as A∼E, respectively. Continuous gray matrix (A), spherical morphology (B), deep gray phases (C), eutectic structure (D) and black flack-like morphology (E).The eutectic structure had cores with irregular shape. It could be noted that the fine lamellar structure grew around irregular cores, thus a cored eutectic cell was formed.

Fig. 5.

The optical micrographs of Fe-Ni matrix composites: (a, b) FG1, (c, d) FG2, (e, f) FG3 and (g, h) FG4 and (i, j) FG5.


The SEM micrographs of the surface of Fe-Ni matrix composites are showed in Figs. 6 and 7. EDS analyses of different regions in the composites are summarized in Table 3. Combined with XRD and EDS, the results revealed that area A was mainly enriched in Fe, C, and the chemical composition (at.%) was around 82.21Fe_14.62C. Area A was identified as matrix Fe. Likewise, spherical morphology (B) consisted of Fe, Ni, W, Cr, Cu, C, and their composition (at.%) was 26.06, 36.03, 3.07, 13.86, 2.41, 18.57, respectively, which was supposed as NiWCr solid solution. Fine white particles from area B were precipitated and their compositions were 35.6_Fe_18.64W_34.96C. Fine white particles were confirmed to be Fe3W3C. Gray precipitates around Fe3W3C mainly rich in 46.72Fe_26.12Ni_8.38Cu_16.05C was FeNi. Fe3W3C with high melting point was preferentially precipitated after cooling, which itself may become particles of heterogeneous nucleation.

Fig. 6.

The microstructure of Fe-Ni matrix composites.

Fig. 7.

The microstructure and elemental distribution of FG1.

Table 3.

Compositional analysis of different regions in the Fe-Ni matrix composites.

EDS point  Fe  Ni  Cr  Cu 
82.21  0.44  1.09  1.28  0.36  14.62  _ 
26.06  36.03  3.07  13.86  2.41  18.57  _ 
26.11  _  _  52.67  0.44  20.78  _ 
35.6  5.77  18.64  5.03  _  34.96  _ 
46.72  26.12  0.70  2.03  8.38  16.05  _ 
69.15  _  _  _  _  30.85  _ 
73.63  _  _  _  _  26.37  _ 
_  _  _  _  _  95.83  4.17 

FeNi with low melting point would precipitate and grow around Fe3W3C particles. Deep gray phases (C) contained 26.11Fe_52.67Cr_20.78C. Besides, the atomic ratios of (Fe, Cr ) and C were nearly 7:3. Thus, deep gray phases were (Cr, Fe)7C3. The eutectic structure only consisted of Fe and C elements. To reveal the elemental distribution of the cored-eutectic, the mapping of the cored-eutectic was conducted, as indicated in Fig. 8. The elemental distribution of inside core and surround eutectic structure showed no apparent difference, which was consistent with EDS results. Therefore, it could be concluded that the inside core should be Fe3C, fine lamellar structure was pearlite. A great amount of C was detected in black flack-like morphology (E), which was determined as Gr.

Fig. 8.

The elemental distribution of cored-eutectic in Fe-Ni matrix composites.


Fig. 9 lists the variation of the microhardness of Fe-Ni matrix composites with various Gr contents. The corresponding error bars of each data point was also given, which represents the range of variation observed at each point. With increasing Gr content from 0 to 5 wt.%, the average microhardness of Fe-Ni matrix composites initially increased, then decreased, but was much higher than that of 16 Mn steel (average microhardness: 180 HV0.5), which was consistent with some other reports [41,42]. Especially the addition of Gr is 3 wt.%, the average microhardness of Fe-Ni matrix composites reached the highest one (355.3HV0.5) among all composites, which was about 2 times higher than that of 16 Mn steel. The cause of a substantial increase in hardness was that the formation of more cored-eutectic (pearlite/Fe3C) and Fe3C, Fe3W3C, (Cr, Fe)7C3 reinforced phases out of the sintering process compensated for the negative effect of Gr on the hardness of composites [38,43,44]. Further, it was observed that microhardness decreased with the content of Gr exceeding 3 wt.%. A possible explanation for this result: one was the existence of excessive Gr with low shear strength was adverse to the hardness of composites, another was the agglomeration of Gr contributed the continuity of the matrix to be destroyed seriously. Furthermore, for the microhardness of different Fe-Ni matrix composites, the corresponding error bars were different. The high values of error bars was found with the content of Gr exceeding 3 wt.%, indicating the values in the measurements varied widely. Since the microhardness value highly rested with the measured position, the variation might be the comprehensive effects of the uneven distribution of hard phases in a relatively softer matrix and the agglomeration of Gr.

Fig. 9.

Variation of the microhardness of Fe-Ni matrix composites.

3.3Tribological properties

Fig. 10a presents the variation of friction coefficients for 16 Mn steel and Fe-Ni matrix composites sliding against a 440C steel ball under the applied load of 20 N with the sliding time. For all composites, the friction coefficient reached a quasi-steady state value after an initial run-in period. The possible reason for this phenomenon was that the contact between Fe-Ni matrix composites and steel ball was metal-metal in the initial stage, promoting the formation of high friction coefficient. The modified friction coefficient formula is listed as follow:

Where τf is the shear strength of the sliding surfaces; σs is the yield strength of matrix. The higher shear strength corresponds to the higher friction coefficient. Therefore, when the Gr content was less than 3 wt.%, the friction coefficient of Fe-Ni matrix composites increased obviously. According to the above XRD and hardness testing results, the proper addition of Gr to Fe-Ni matrix composites could form high hardness cored-eutectic (pearlite/Fe3C), Fe3C, Fe3W3C, (Cr, Fe)7C3, leading to the high shear strength on the sliding surfaces during the sliding process. The minimum friction coefficient value which was close to 0.25 was recorded for FG5, which was due to the presence of Gr that functioned as a solid lubricant was conductive to lower the shear strength. Meanwhile, the fluctuation of friction coefficient of all Fe-Ni matrix composites was larger compared with 16 Mn steel, which might be caused by the presence of reinforcement phases in Fe-Ni matrix composites [37].

Fig. 10.

Friction coefficient (a) and wear rate (b) of 16 Mn steel and Fe-Ni matrix composites after wear tests under the load of 20 N.


The variation of wear rates for 16 Mn steel and Fe-Ni matrix composites is described in Fig. 10b. It could be worth noting that the wear rate of Fe-Ni matrix composites firstly decreased from about 3.7 × 10−5  mm3(Nm)-1 to 2.89 × 10-5 mm3(Nm)-1, then increased to the higher value of about 1.26 × 10-4 mm3(Nm)-1 with continuously increasing content of Gr. Compared with the 16 Mn steel, the wear resistance of Fe-Ni matrix composites was improved by about 3.29, 3.66, 4.21, 1.90 and 1.14 times, respectively. The comprehensive effect of high hardness and lubricant was favorable for the wear resistance. The significantly improved microhardness (Fig. 9) led to the high loading capacity and smaller contact area. This is, the higher hardness, the better wear resistance [45,46].

In order to further study the wear behavior of Fe-Ni matrix composites in details. The variation of friction coefficients and wear rates for Fe-Ni matrix composites and 16 Mn steel substrate under different loads is presented in Fig. 11. It was noticed that the friction coefficient of 16 Mn steel was insensitive to the normal load. Nevertheless, the friction coefficient of Fe-Ni matrix composites was very sensitive to the normal load. FG1 and FG2 always showed significant higher friction coefficients in comparison with 16 Mn steel under different loads. The trend of friction coefficients of FG1 and FG2 was comparable, whereas FG2 presented slightly higher friction coefficients. Similar phenomenon were also discovered in some previous studies [35,41]. Besides, the higher applied load, the higher friction coefficient. Two reasons might well explain this phenomenon. One was high load could make the asperities on the counterpart penetrate into the composite deeply, and finally led to increased friction coefficient. Another was higher load led to more high hardness carbides exposing on the sliding surface as abrasive particles further enhance the abrasive wear. As the content of Gr went beyond 3 wt.%, the friction coefficients of Fe-Ni matrix composites were lower than that of 16 Mn steel, and gradually decreased with the increasing load.

Fig. 11.

Friction coefficient (a) and wear rate (b) of 16 Mn steel and Fe-Ni matrix composites after wear tests under different loads.


Wear testing results clearly indicated that the wear rates of Fe-Ni matrix composites showed consistent lower than that of 16 Mn steel at any applied loads. All wear rates of FG3 reached the minimum value under different loads. In a word, it could be inferred that Fe-Ni matrix composite with 3 wt.% Gr provided the highest wear resistance, which resulted in longer service life.

3.4Worn surface morphologies and wear mechanism

The worn morphologies of Fe-Ni matrix composites and 16 Mn steel under the applied load of 20 N were observed by SEM, as illustrated in Fig. 12. It is apparent that the worn morphology of 16 Mn steel was quite coarse with many deep furrows (Fig. 12a). The wear mechanism was dominated by plastic deformation and severe abrasive wear, which was consistent with 16 Mn steel possessing the highest wear rate. It was because that the asperities of counterparts (steel ball) with the higher hardness could easily penetrate into the soft surface of 16 Mn steel, forming deep plowing and cutting. As shown in Fig. 12(b–d), the worn morphology of Fe-Ni matrix composites showed apparent difference as compared to that of 16 Mn steel. As could be seen in Fig. 12b, plastic deformation and furrows are obviously alleviated on the worn surface of FG1, and slight spalling feature was detected. This suggested that the worn surface of FG1 exhibited the main wear mechanism of slight brittle spalling and abrasive wear. Numerous carbides that were well-dispersed in the metal matrix led to the high loading capacity, which had pinning effect in metal matrix. Thus, the plowing effect of counterpart was greatly suppressed.

Fig. 12.

Worn surface morphologies of 16 Mn steel and Fe-Ni matrix composites: (a) 16 Mn steel, (b) FG1, (c) FG3 and (d) FG5.


By contrast, the worn surface of FG3 was quite mild with the formation of a specific composite layer different from the composite. The shear strength was in the following order: the composite < a specific composite layer < Gr. Therefore, FG3 exhibited good lubricating properties during the sliding process, which was consistent with Eqs. (1). The schematic diagram of wear mechanism of composites was shown in Fig. 13. Gr was squeezed out from the subsurface due to the plastic deformation during the sliding process, then Gr mixed with the matrix materials and carbides would be released to the worn surface, finally, resulting in the formation of a composite layer with the best combinations of high toughness of metal matrix. Thus, the high hardness of carbides and good lubricating properties of Gr covering the rubbing surface to avoid the direct contact between composites and counterparts, lending an effective protection to reduce the material removal [47–49]. Considering above the reason, the excellent wear resistance was reasonably obtained for FG3. However, the worn surface of FG5 was relatively coarse, accompanied by the breakdown of the composite layer, which well agreed with FG5 showing the worse wear resistance than FG3. It is possible that the formed composite layer which was filled with high percent of Gr showed the low loading capacity, which led to the composite layer not resist the plowing effect of counterpart.

Fig. 13.

The wear mechanism diagram of composites.


Fe-Ni matrix composites with Gr filler were successfully fabricated by SPS, consisting of NiWCr, FeNi, FeCr solid solutions, Fe3C, Fe3W3C, (Cr, Fe)7C3, cored-eutectic structure (pearlite/Fe3C) and Gr. The average microhardness of Fe-Ni matrix composites initially increased, then decreased. The average microhardness of FG3 reached the maximum value (355.3HV0.5), which was about 2 times as high as that of 16 Mn steel substrate. Compared with 16 Mn steel substrate and other Fe-Ni matrix composites, FG3 showed the superior wear resistance. Hence, Fe-Ni matrix composite with the addition of 3 wt.% Gr were particularly suitable used for the restoration of the middle chute of the scraper conveyor.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare no conflict of interest.


The authors acknowledge financial supports by the Key Project of National Natural Science Foundation of China (U1510205).

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